By Andrew Goudsward
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Georgia prosecutor trying former President Donald Trump for seeking to overturn his 2020 election defeat acknowledged on Friday having a personal relationship with another lawyer on the criminal case but denied it tainted the prosecution.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis in a court filing said claims that threatened to upend her office’s historic prosecution had "no merit."
Trump and two co-defendants are seeking to disqualify Willis and dismiss the charges, alleging Willis benefited financially from an "improper, clandestine personal relationship" with Nathan Wade, a lawyer she hired to help lead the investigation.
"While the allegations raised in the various motions are salacious and garnered the media attention they were designed to obtain, none provide this Court with any basis upon which to order the relief they seek," Willis said in the filing.
The case is one of four criminal prosecutions Trump faces as he closes in on the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in November's election. Trump has launched multiple challenges that could delay the start of any trial by weeks or months.
As he has before, Trump lashed out at Willis in a post on his Truth Social platform on Friday, saying, "THIS SCAM IS TOTALLY DISCREDITED & OVER!"
Steven Sadow, Trump's lead defense lawyer in the case, said Willis' filing "asks the court to turn a blind eye to her alleged personal and financial misconduct."
Willis said her relationship with Wade did not give either prosecutor a personal or financial stake in the criminal case and said claims of a conflict of interest were based on "fantastical theories and rank speculation," the filing said.
In a sworn statement, Wade said the personal relationship with Willis began in 2022, after he was hired as a special prosecutor on the 2020 election probe. Willis received no financial benefit from the relationship, his statement said.
Citing unnamed sources and previously sealed court records, Trump co-defendant Michael Roman alleged in a court filing that Wade paid for vacations with Willis while he was being compensated by her office for work on the probe.
Trump and his co-defendants accused Willis of a conflict of interest and suggested her relationship with Wade may run afoul of state ethics rules and U.S. law.
Records released as part of Wade’s divorce case show he paid for airline flights with Willis on at least two occasions during the investigation.
Wade said in the sworn statement that personal travel expenses had been divided "roughly equally" between the two.
Trump’s legal team endorsed Roman’s allegations and said Willis "inappropriately injected race into the case" during a speech responding to Roman's allegations.
Willis said during the speech that she hired three special counsels for the election interference investigation and noted that only Wade, who like her is Black, has come under scrutiny.
In Georgia, Trump and 14 of his political allies are facing racketeering and other charges in a sweeping indictment accusing them of conspiring to reverse his narrow 2020 defeat in the state. Four defendants originally charged in the case have pleaded guilty after striking deals with prosecutors.
Willis asked the judge overseeing the case to deny the attempts to remove her office from the case without holding a hearing.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee has already scheduled a Feb. 15 hearing focused on the allegations.
(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Nathan Layne; Editing by Scott Malone, Daniel Wallis and Howard Goller)